South Africa has eleven official languages. For the country as a whole, the most commonly spoken language as a mother tongue is Zulu, followed by Xhosa, then Afrikaans, and finally English. The other languages are, like Xhosa and Zulu, all languages from the so-called Bantu family – being widely spoken within Africa’s Niger-Congo phylum.
However, for all practical purposes, English is the true official language and lingua franca of the country. It dominates the media, as well as all official documentation.
Additionally, Cape Town, being a formerly segregated, ‘whites only’ area, is not reflective of the country’s statistics. 41.4% of Capetonians speak Afrikaans at home, followed neck-and-neck by Xhosa at 28.7% and English at 27.9%. Probably around 90% speak at least passable English, due to its role as the formal language of instruction in schools.
Most ex-pats, aside from a smattering of Afrikaans, speak English exclusively. It is extremely rare to encounter people where communication is not possible, and it is never in a retail or business setting. Some locals do have very strong accents that may take some getting used to, but so long as you have a decent command of English you’re unlikely to find yourself linguistically stranded.
Nonetheless, learning a local language can enhance your experience while living abroad. The ability to communicate with people of different cultures and backgrounds in their home languages can no doubt open up entirely new social realms, especially in a place as ethnically diverse as Cape Town.
Furthermore, on the business side of things, a basic command of Afrikaans and Xhosa is widely considered an invaluable tool in the networking process.
In light of this, I’ve listed a few good schools for anyone interested in studying these languages below.
This is the primary language of South Africa’s Afrikaans (Caucasian) and colored (Malay, Griqua and mixed-heritage) ethnic groups. It’s descended from and remains mutually intelligible with Dutch, is easily picked up by Germans, and will certainly be more familiar in its structure to European language speakers than Xhosa. English speakers can generally become passable speakers within a few months, with the usual progression to fluency within three or four years. This is, of course, assuming that you make constant use of it, and immerse yourself regularly in the Afrikaans-speaking community.
Inlingua Language Training Centre
This well-regarded school is centrally situated in Green Point’s Somerset Road, on the cusp of City Bowl. It provides long-term Afrikaans language courses ranging from the beginner through to intermediate level. The school also provides short, one to two week long courses in basic usage pitted at airline personnel.
Foyer A, 101 Sovereign Quay, 34 Somerset Road, Green Point
Call 021 419 0494 or 021 419 0729 or visit http://www.inlingua.co.za.
Correspondence courses in Afrikaans language and literature are also available through Unisa (The University of South Africa), and carry the added bonus of providing you with a formal tertiary qualification to prove your skills. Visit http://www.unisa.co.za or call 0861 670 411.
With its characteristic click consonants (the word ‘Xhosa’ actually begins with a click) and prenasalizations, Xhosa may at first blush seem like a very difficult language to learn. Indeed, for anyone unfamiliar with tonal languages, it may prove quite challenging. Chinese speakers will probably grasp the pronunciation more easily than Europeans, but regardless, to reach any kind of conversational capacity to speak of without at least a year of study and practical immersion is unlikely.
On the upside, Xhosa has a very small vocabulary and frequently draws on English to create new words. Thus, once you master the language’s unusual sounds and grammatical structures, fluency will be just a few good spurts of parrot-learning away.
This excellent school for beginners is situated in Woodstock. Its courses are headed by fully qualified educators, and aim to teach adults everyday communication skills. Aside from group courses, the school offers private one-on-one sessions and corporate classes for companies.
45 Queens Park Avenue, Upper Woodstock
Call 084 843 7795 or visit http://www.xhosafundis.co.za
Above Average Tutors
Alternatively, you could have a private tutor provide you with lessons in your home. Above Average Tutors offers good tuition in just about every high-school subject, at reasonable rates (About R175 an hour).
Call Mariaan on 079 479 1215 or visit http://www.aboveaverage.za.net